Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
5 July 2000 Issue

Animal Rights
a political issue
a politicians view
By Michele A. Rivera - [email protected]


Mahatma Gandhi is credited with the quote "The greatness of a society is shown by the way it treats its animals" and Leo Tolstoy once said "If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals." Some of the worlds' most esteemed people have demonstrated their concern for the animals with whom we share our environment. Among them are noted scientists, authors, politicians, teachers, clergy, and modern day celebrities. The animal rights movement is growing and gaining strength. But we need the power of our political leaders to make things happen for the animals, and so I made an appointment to talk to my United States Congressman, Representative Mark Foley.

Recently, I had a chance to ask my congressman, Mark Foley, about his ideas on animal rights.


Q. Are issues involving the humane treatment of animals important to you personally?

Foley: Yes, I believe that how we treat animals reflects on how we treat people. I was appalled to learn that Mr. Weston, the man who shot those two capital police officers, had admitted to shooting neighbors cats in the weeks before. Perhaps if he had been made to pay for the crime of shooting cats, he wouldn't be out shooting policemen.

Q. Do you consider the animal-rights movement to be a well-organized effort?

Foley: To some degree. I think there is still a very scattered approach and that work needs to be done on that, but it is getting there. I dont like the fringe elements and think there needs to be a more balanced approach.

Q. What do you feel about organized letter-writing campaigns in terms of their success in getting you to look at a pending bill more closely?

Foley: I like the animal-rights movement because I see that it is made up of people with a lot of personal integrity. Other activists talk about things like taxes and benefits, etc., things that benefit them personally. The animal-rights people, however, are speaking for those who cannot. They are speaking for animals who cant speak for themselves, the activists themselves have no personal agenda, their efforts are on someone else's behalf. I think it is a very sincere movement.

'Q. Would you ever considering sponsoring legislation for an animal-related bill?

Foley: I did. I was on the committee to ban the hunting of the Florida Black Bear. Now they want to lift the ban. I cant see doing that if it is not in the interest of public safety. If it is simply for sport hunting, thats ridiculous. We degrade our environment when we break the chain of life.

Q. What is the most effective way that animal-rights activists can get their point across to you?

Foley: Sincere letter writing. People who write passionately and with sincerity.

Q. When you receive an e-mail, fax, phone message or letter asking you to vote a certain way on a specific bill that may be pending, do you read all the arguments contained therein or simply tally up the "for's" and/or "against's"?

Foley: I have certain staff members who are assigned to research different causes and get back to me. We have legislative briefings every week where we all sit down and discuss the weeks mail. I read the e-mails and the letters that I get and I don't like the ones that are scripted, or simply copied for the masses to sign. I wonder if the signer actually read it or is just passing it on. I know that sometimes people will simply copy and paste letters over and over again. I can tell, of course, the letters all look the same, say the same thing, have the same format. Its obvious. I dont like that. I need to know that the writer put some thought into it.

Q. In 1995, 300 activists staged a demonstration on the steps of the Capital to protest US subsidies to fur farmers. Congress voted to stop subsidizing fur farmers. Do you think that our being there at that demonstration had anything to do with the way Congress voted?

Foley: Yes, I remember that demonstration and it clearly helped. I voted against the subsidizing of fur-farmers. I appreciate the efforts to raise consciousness about these matters. I don't like it when activists throw blood or paint on people wearing fur coats, but I think the demonstrations can be effective. I don't believe in giving tax money to people to raise mink and kill them for their fur.

Q. Florida has strict animal-cruelty laws and county ordinances to protect domestic animals, the police are frequently not aware of the laws or the enforcement of them. Do you have a remedy for this?

Foley: I never work on a new law without including ways to get the police the information they need to enforce it. I think that Congress needs to put the educational resources in every law they pass. I have seen many people fight hard to get laws passed and once they are, the attention is off of it and things go on as before, with nobody enforcing them. We need the resources to educate the police about these matters.

Q. Are you aware of the *FBI reports on the link between animal abuse and criminal activity? Do you support stricter penalties for those convicted of animal cruelty?

Foley: No, I am not aware of any formal study. But I was instrumental in stopping the hog/dog rodeo because I think that no violent act goes without applause. We bring children to the hog/dog rodeo, and let them watch animals rip each others ears off and kill each other, and we obscure the line between right and wrong. I think that peoples pets are family members, and the loss of one is very acute. When someone takes advantage of an animal and kicks the dog, they will take advantage of a child and hurt them too.

Q. Sometimes activists are asked to write to representatives from other districts or even other states regarding pending legislation. One such example is the pending legislation in Montana to stop the US sanctioned killing of wolves. Do you feel that letters from activists outside a representatives constituency carries any weight?

Foley: I tend to be more interested in what people in the 16th district have to say, then the state, and then the rest of the country. Joining together is important. Someone else's fight may not be my fight today, but it could be my fight tomorrow. We dont have any body who checks up to see if a writer is from my district if it doesn't say so in the letter, and we don't know who is a registered voter or not, but as far as being a voter is concerned, I feel that if you aren't registered to vote, you don't have a share in the debate.

Q. Are you persuaded by "Letters to the Editor," news articles and other media coverage when deciding how to vote on a pending piece of legislation?

Foley: If the letter is reasonable and grounded in fact. I also think that letters to the editor praising the representative for doing something right is very important too. I am not at all persuaded by the efforts of paid lobbyists. I find that people who write to me or to the editor, people who speak out for animals and who engage in grass roots efforts are much more impressive to me.

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[Editor's Note: We realize the Representative's comments regarding form letters may contradict the work we do in our weekly Alert for Action newsletter, in which all alerts are structured in letter format. However, as the opening paragraphs of the Alert for Action state, our letters are meant to be sample letters only.

It is commonly known that a personal letter is granted more weight by the recipient than a form letter. It demonstrates that the sender is serious enough about the subject to take the time to express their individual thoughts and ideas. However well intentioned, a form letter shows nothing of the sort.

The intentions of our Alert for Action format are to provide you with a sample letter containing all the facts. We expect that most subscribers will take the facts from our letters and incorporate them with their own thoughts and ideas. This is the most effective means of being heard, and most importantly, being taken seriously. At the same time, we understand that personal lifestyles and circumstances do not always create the opportunity to construct numerous, individual letters each week. Under such situations, we would rather you send our sample letters than do absolutely nothing at all.]

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